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Saints transcripts: C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Malcolm Jenkins, Calvin Throckmorton and Alvin Kamara Media Availability | Thursday, Dec. 16

Saints players look ahead to another prime-time matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night

New Orleans Saints Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson
Media Availability
Thursday, December 16, 2021

What was it like to be sidelined for a long period of time with your injury?
"It was hard being out for four or five weeks. Last week felt good, but I didn't feel like I was where I wanted to be. It felt like I missed so much, so, I'm not trying to put too much weight on my shoulders by doing too much coming back. So, I'm just going to get back in the groove, help the team win, and keep the streak going so we can get in (the playoffs)."

What was the toughest part of being sidelined with your injury?
"Losing. I don't like losing. I think when you get in a funk, it always affects the guys around you. Coming back in the locker room, the energy never changed, but we know what we are facing this year. We know all the adversity we've faced with the quarterback situation, with Jameis Winston getting hurt and Taysom Hill playing through a lot and having Trevor Siemian. We've just got to stay focused. The moment that you decide not to focus on your job is when I feel like you lose your grit and your passion for the game."

Was that the longest you've had to sit out during a football season?
"I've never been hurt before. That was the first time I've ever been out. I don't think I've ever missed a football game until last year against Carolina. I'm pretty durable. It hurts, but to be with my teammates for the next four or five weeks, we need to embrace the time we've got (together), because like you said, we are trying to get to that dance (playoffs). We have got to get there."

What did you do during the games while you were injured?
"Man, I was yelling at the TV screen. It's like, I don't watch a lot of football, so I don't watch us. Watching us go through the struggle was different. I know who we really are. It hurt because I know how much the guys care. It just hurt me because I'm all about the team. When I came back, I was ready to have the care, love, and passion again. I'm not saying that was never lost, but we've just got to get that grit back and get back into the routine."

Why do you think you guys play so well and give Tom Brady the most trouble?
"He's one of the best quarterbacks of all time, so, it's not about X's and O's sometimes. It is about understanding the preparation that goes into the game. You have to think about it, this guy (Brady) can call your bluff three hours before the game. You don't want anybody calling your bluff before the game. So, you just have to make sure you prepare so when we step on the field, we can keep him on his toes and edge. If he can pick you apart, it's going to be a long night. We just have to make sure we're on our game when we face a quarterback like him and be prepared to face what you have to face on Sunday, and just do your job."

How different is this Tampa Bay team from the one you faced in October?
"I mean, they're a solid team. They're pretty good, solid all the way around. So, we just have to go in there focused. All of the talking will not win the game. Obviously, all of you have seen it. We have to go out there and play the first quarter all the way through the fourth quarter."

Why are the matchups against Tampa Bay usually emotional games?
"All of you know why it's emotional. All of you know why. You don't just come into this league thinking you're going to beat everybody. To actually get a greater challenge within our division, I think it's great. I think the emotion is just more so passion to win the football game. There isn't any real animosity. I think everyone is just out there to win. So, if it is (emotional), I think we just have to focus on what we need to focus on. I think that's what our main goal is this week. We know what's at stake. We're not worried about the outside noise. We're just worried about what's going to happen on Sunday and today."

Do you like playing in high-stake, primetime games like this one? It seems that's how you're wired.
"I've been like that since I was a kid. You can go back to my high school days. I've played against the best competition since I was growing up. Getting to play against the best quarterback (Tom Brady), one of the best receiving corps, and hearing people say what defense is better makes you want to step up and be the best you can be. That's what I am striving for, and I know that's what my teammates are striving for. I don't know about the other side is striving for. Like I always tell all of you, I'm focused on winning ball games and being the best."

How do you out prepare a guy like Tom Brady who's played in the NFL for 20 years?
"Man, you just have to focus on you and do your job. I think that's what a lot of teams get misconstrued, don't worry about someone else's job. Do your job, do what you can do and that is all you can do to help your team. That is what your team drafted you for or signed you for. That is what Coach Payton brought me here to do, just do my job. I feel like everyone here has the same attitude. Every time we play (Tampa Bay), we know what's at stake. We know what we have to do."

Is there an element of waiting on your moment during a game like this against Tom Brady, similar to the one P.J. Williams had last game with his pick six?
"Like the veterans say, you have to know who's play it is to make. That was (Williams') play to make. You can't try to make someone else's play. Just being there (in your spot) and doing your job, I think it's going to be a good (game) Sunday. I just feel too good being back and having my feet under me."

How far is your hometown from Tampa Bay?
"About 30 minutes to an hour. Really emotional for me. I don't go home a lot, so, this game is more important to me than anything."

What's it like being an 11-point underdog?
"I don't care if we're a 100-point underdog. What's that mean? We were underdogs last game. What's that mean? This group has won a lot of games as underdogs. Before I got here, this group was winning football games. So, underdogs is just a word. A lot of underdogs take out the big dog."

Do you expect the postgame extracurricular activity in the previous game against Tampa Bay to carry over into Sunday's game?
"No. It won't carry over. It doesn't bother me. I am who I am."

Why was Leonard Fournette so upset after the previous game against Tampa Bay?
"Next question."

How bad did you want to have that interception last week that you almost secured?
"You could see the energy of the team. I bring a different fire to the team. That's how I feel and it'll be like that until I die."

New Orleans Saints Safety Malcolm Jenkins
Media Availability
Thursday, December 16, 2021

What is it about you guys that allows you to play well historically against Tampa Bay three of the last four meetings?
"We're in their division, so we're obviously very familiar with their style of play. I think we matchup well from a personnel standpoint in coverage and against the run. I think we're built to matchup very well against this team. We have always played good games against them. We always feel solid about our game plan going into the game, but they're obviously still a super talented team. We have to show up and win those matchups, but we feel like obviously over the last few years that we match up well against them on paper."

What are your thoughts on Leonard Fournette's career resurgence in Tampa Bay over the past year?
"I think when you're watching (Tampa) play, there's certain games with Tom Brady, all of their receivers and (Rob) Gronkowski are getting all of the attention, because at any time they can spread the ball out all over the field. But you see in games that if they turn it over or they are controlling the game, they start the run the ball into some of those split safety looks. Leonard Fournette is a downhill runner, he's running through tackles, and is finishing his runs by falling forward. That's allowing (Tampa) to finishing ahead of the sticks and slow the game down and have control, especially late in games. If we look back at third time we played them, in the playoffs last year, Leonard Fournette was a big part in why that game was different than the first two matchups. You can't just focus on the pass game with Tom Brady and the receivers because he's a guy who's coming on especially later in the year when bodies are getting tired. He seems to get stronger and become a bigger part of their offense."

How do you think Tampa Bay has been able to turn Fournette's career around?
"I don't know about before he got to Tampa, but when you look at what they're doing on offense, it's a nice compliment to his skillset, to be honest. He's not the work horse, he's not having to run into nine-man boxes because his quarterback cannot throw the ball. So, with space, now all of sudden, this is the back that we've seen before. He was always the focus of the offense before, so defenses were going to focus on him. That is hard for a running back to get loose with. In this offense, it's a great compliment to have to their passing game with an interior running game and a strong running back that can still hit home runs when he sees a crease in the defense. Like I said, he seems to get stronger as the year and games go on."

Do you think Tom Brady has a feel on when the formations are more favorable to get the ball to Leonard Fournette?
"I would hope so. He's been in the league for however long, I think he does know what looks are good to run into and what looks are good to pass into. That's constantly a cat and mouse game that you have to play with him, because he's patient enough to run the ball for 3 or 4 yards over and over again if that's what's going to win the game. For us, you can't just come out and play one thing. There's no such thing as making Tom Brady left-handed. He knows how to win and control the game based on what they need to win. For us, it's about coming out and starting fast, making some adjustments, and holding up in the running game, but also the passing game by keeping the ball in front of us."

Has Sean Payton put a bigger emphasis on COVID-19 safety with all of the outbreaks happening around the league?
"I think everybody has been alarmed, obviously with another variant coming out and the way cases are spreading, especially around the league. There's a lot of debate going on about testing frequencies and things like that. So, until all of that is settled, I think everyone is on a higher alert and being more cautious. That's not just here, that's around the league. There's teams where players have put in their own mandates to put masks on. It's one of those things where everyone wants to make sure they're available for our team to play in games. We don't want to run into a situation where we have to postpone or cancel a game. That's really the worst-case scenario and one we're trying to avoid at all costs."

What's it like to be an 11-point underdog?
"I didn't know that until you just said it. I don't pay attention to that. In Philadelphia, we were pretty much an underdog every year. I think we play better from that standpoint to be honest, especially this year with the guys we have. I think we've gotten used to that space in where we are in the season. With our record, we're going to be the underdog, but I think that takes the pressure off of us. We understand that we have our own issues, but one thing that we don't have to do is having the fear of falling from the top, because we aren't up there. So, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. That is a good place to be at this point in the year."

Does Coach Payton ever discuss having the underdog mentality with the team?
"Yeah, it is good. When (you) can matchup with your opponent as an underdog and all the pressure is on them to perform, it allows your preparation to be a little looser and you can come out and play without the fear of having an upset or laying an egg. Not to say that Tampa's not going to be prepared, but at least for us, we don't have that cloud or pressure hanging over us. We just prepare and come out. Nobody believes in us anyway, so we'll just go have fun and compete."

Why has the rivalry with Tampa Bay gotten more emotional over the past couple of years?
"I think the talent is the best it has ever been between the two teams. Whenever the talent rises, the competitiveness and the stakes rise. When those rise, so does the rivalry. When you look at this division and the success we have had in it for a long time, I know that is something that motivates Tampa and other teams in the division. But at the same time, with Tampa being the Super Bowl champions last year, there's a lot on the line, at least from a prize standpoint. Obviously, playing them twice a year adds a little bit of fuel to it."

Do you remember the postgame festivities from the last game against Tampa Bay on the field? Do you think any of that will carry over into this game?
"I don't know. It had nothing to do with me, so not really. We've played a lot of games since then. It was obviously a good win for us, but we'll see them again this week."

Do you talk a lot on the field?
"Not anymore. I used to, but I am trying to reserve all my energy at this point of my career (to concentrate on play). We've got enough talkers on the team. I do a little bit, but we've got other delegates for that."

New Orleans Saints Offensive Line Calvin Throckmorton
Post Practice Media Availability
Thursday, December 16, 2021

What are the challenges with this defensive front? It's pretty well respected around the league.
"Yeah, I think when you look at them, I mean, they're probably the one of the best front sevens in the league. They play the run really well, really stout with those big bodies on the interior. But then when you have to drop back and pass the ball, they're really good to getting to the quarterback and creating pressures and getting after it. It's definitely challenge but we're looking forward to it."

What's this whole year been like for you? It's got to be kind of like a whirlwind. Like at one point, I assume, in your mind, you're fighting to make the team and all of a sudden you're a regular starter, it's got to be kind of weird to look back if you've had a chance to do that yet.
"Yeah, I mean, from going all last year on the practice squad and getting those opportunities and stuff throughout camp and eventually making the team this year, and then being thrust into the lineup, basically from week one. It's been, I mean, honestly it's been a dream come true. But it's certainly come with a lot of challenges, a lot of growing pains for sure, just be getting those first few experiences in the league, but really embraced it. It's been a lot of fun, and it's been great having all the support from the guys around me and the coaches around me. Certainly been a year of a lot of growth and fun and just enjoying it and trying to take advantage of it."

What are some things that you've learned about yourself just with the increased opportunities?
"I think it's just really kind of figuring out what my game is going to look like at this level. And what I can really take advantage of both in the run game and pass protection and I guess kind of just really finding out what I can be good at and where are some things I can obviously still continue to improve on. That's biggest thing is taking this year and really looking at it and finding out where I can continue to improve and get better and just focus on those things during the week and do it again every week."

How much will that help you going into the offseason, just knowing exactly kind of what that path needs to be?
"I mean, I feel it's vital, it's crucial because you can improve on those things. But also take advantage of what you've done well, and really just kind of self reflect and analyze what you did during the year, what worked, what did not and be able to take that into your training and your programming in the offseason and come back that much better. Once camp rolls around again."

What happened on that screen pass with Alvin Kamara?
"I mean, it's just trying to get out in space and find a blocker and all of a sudden you find out that the running backs right behind you, and you end up in the way. Really just trying to get out in space and find somebody and block somebody and we're in the same spot."

Did you hear about it this week?
"No, it's been great. We're all looking forward to the next game and moving forward."

There was talk that there might be a fine involved?
"As far as I know, that hasn't happened."

What are the wins in the run game against this team, because they don't obviously give up a lot of gash plays?
"Yeah, it's taking those two, three, four yard pops and really come into the run game and take advantage of the looks that they do give us when they present themselves and using our different checks and stuff like that to take advantage of what they've giving us. And yeah, if we can get three, four a pop then that's big for us. Because then we get ahead of the stakes and then we're looking at third and two and three and then the full offensive playbook is open at that point. So that's really what we're focused on, first and second down efficiency so we can get into those manageable third downs."

Do you get a sense of like why they had their worst game against the run the entire season last week? And what adjustments you would kind of expect them to be making against you guys?
"I mean, I think probably what I would say is that I felt like everybody had kind of has those games. And sometimes it's just maybe it was a scheme that a team is taking advantage of, or just a certain look that you're having a tendency in. I think it's just really sticking to our game plan and having full confidence in what we're looking at and what we're going to be doing in the run and pass game so just continue to look at what they're doing this week and see what we can take advantage of."

What changes for you guys when a quarterback takes different drops like Trevor (Siemian) and Taysom (Hill) as opposed to Jameis (Winston) who's a little bit more shallow?
"I mean, you kind of get keys depending on what route combinations are in the huddle call, or the certain protections that are called, where we think they're going to be at and so we can definitely kind of adjust how we're setting and adjust what our set patterns are going to look like as an entire offensive line to account for that. I think it's just making sure that the quarterback is comfortable with wherever they're at and adjusting with how we set and how we handle what they do on the edges."

New Orleans Saints Running Back Alvin Kamara
Media Availability
Thursday, December 16, 2021

What was it like without Coach Payton yesterday?
"It was cool, I guess he was a feeling (under the weather). I think just like when a player goes down, same thing when coaches go down, (Ryan) Nielsen stepped up and led the team meeting and led practice and all the other coaches kind of stepped up and filled the void. He was back today, We didn't really get too much of it, but I'm sure that the coaches will get it tonight when they go in there and gameplan and probably be in there with him all night, because he missed a day."

Do you relish playing against a team with a defense like this?
"It's always fun, you like challenges like that sometimes because I mean, you know, it's going to be a battle the whole time. I mean, from first quarter to the fourth quarter. So I mean a division opponent, of course, we play them so much we're familiar. I mean, it's not really too much tricking each other, you know, it's like, it's a battle, it's going to be a battle all the time. So we are ready for it."

Is that the fun part of it, that there is no trickery involved?
"Exactly, that's really what it is. It's like, shoot, we line up and then play and at the end of those games, it is always like dang, shoot, we won or they won. It is not like, dang, we could have (done something different), to me it's like either a clear winner and a clear loser. It's not really a lot of fluke things going on. Or it's like, oh, we should have got them. It's like, hey, they had us that game or we had them again."

How have you and your teammates managed to be the clear winners in the last three regular season games?
"Yeah, man. I think just preparation. I think just preparation and just coming out with energy and fighting. Like, you know, knowing that you kind of got to just stay true to what you do. It's not like I said, not a bunch of trickery, not a bunch of like, gimmick stuff, it's just you go out there and play hardnosed football and try to play four quarters and limit the mistakes and when we make them make mistakes, we got to capitalize. That's kind of how that go."

Last game, you guys ran better against them. They've had a pretty good run front, until this past week when I think Josh Allen scrambled for a lot. But you guys didn't have Taysom (Hill) in the last game. Does that make you kind of curious or eager or just confident about what the running game could potentially do against these guys if you're on point?
"Obviously like you said, I think we run the ball pretty well against this team. I think that just comes from and you could probably ask Mark Ingram II, but personally me, I feel like you've got to be okay with getting those three yard runs and those four yard runs and sometimes two yard runs, but you can't get frustrated because, like I said, it's a four quarter game. Let the o-line settle in and keep bumping and keep fighting and some of those runs end up popping. That's why we run well against them because we stay true to what we're doing. We don't try to create or make up things. So with Taysom I think it adds another element because you're not just looking at me, (or) you're not just looking at Mark. Now you've got to be aware of Taysom taking off, pulling the ball down on a pass play, on a play action or a designed QB run, just anything. So that adds to the rushing attack. They're a smart team, a smart group. I know they're aware of it, and I think anytime you have Taysom in there it's an advantage for us so we'll see how they stack up against it."

I saw a stat today where you're seeing eight or more in the box on like 23% of your runs and the highest you've ever seen was like 16. Can you feel that difference? Do you see that difference?
"Not really. I just keep moving. I'll just try to make sure I'm on point with my reads and just keep going because, I mean, at a certain point it all feels the same. There's not one team that's going to be like, 'Oh, well, Alvin's back there, we're good, we can take somebody out of the box.' I mean, you've just got to play. I just kind of try to stay true to my reads, use my eyes and keep my feel the same. Like try not to trick myself or kind of play myself out of what I'm seeing. Like, I just try to keep it all natural and just float. Eight in the box, ten in the box, whatever, I don't know."

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